A former British spy gathering information on Donald Trump and Russia broke off his relationship with the FBI after a now-infamous October 2016 New York Times story reported the bureau did not see a “clear link” between Donald Trump and Russia.
That’s according to Glenn Simpson, founder of the research firm that hired the ex-spy, Fusion GPS, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer. Democrats on Tuesday released Simpson’s testimony over the objection of Republicans.
Simpson’s firm hired former MI6 officer Christopher Steele to dig on Trump’s dealings with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. Steele reported he found Trump colluded with the Russian government—a claim Trump has repeatedly denied.
Steele reportedly shared some of his findings with an FBI agent in Rome that summer and was interviewed by FBI agents in Europe in early October.
But then Steele severed ties with the bureau, Simpson testified.
“On October 31st the New York Times posed a story saying that the FBI is investigating Trump and found no connections to Russia and, you know, it was a real Halloween special,” he said. “Sometime thereafter the FBI—I understand Chris severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn’t know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on. So he stopped dealing with them.”
Simpson also said an aide to Sen. John McCain asked Simpson to share his findings with him so McCain could discuss it with FBI leadership.
“That was essentially—all we sort of wanted was for the government to do its job,” Simpson said, “and we were concerned about whether the information that we provided previously had ever, you know, risen to the leadership level of the FBI. We simply just didn't know.”
The most astonishing part of the nine-hour testimony came from Joshua Levy, one of the lawyers who accompanied Simpson, when he was grilled about the dossier’s sources.
“Did you take any steps to try to assess the credibility of his sources, his unnamed sources in the material that he was providing to you?” the committee’s chief investigative counsel, James Foster, asked.
“Yes, but I’m not going to get into sourcing information,” Simpson replied.
“So without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility?” Foster replied.
“I’m going to decline to answer that,” said Simpson.
When Foster pressed him on why he wouldn’t answer, Simpson’s lawyer jumped in.
“It’s a voluntary interview and in addition to that, he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody's already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,” Levy said.
For months, Simpson called on the committee to release his transcript but Republicans, led by chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, refused. On Tuesday morning, the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, circumvented Grassley and publishing the testimony.
"The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice," Feinstein said in a statement. "The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public."
Grassley immediately criticized Feinstein for releasing the transcript, and told The Daily Beast that she hardly gave him any heads-up before publishing it.
“I was aware of it when it was released,” he said. “She did send me a letter, but we got the letter at about the same time.”
Grassley added that he believes Simpson is the real Russian operative.
“I hope you get a chance to read it,” he said, “because I think Simpson presumably wanted it released, and I think if you read it you’ll find out that he was uncooperative, he was colluding with the Russians, he was colluding with the Democrats, and he was, all the time, denying those things.”
A Grassley aide told The Daily Beast last October that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s so-called Russia investigation is actually focused on the FBI, including its interactions with Fusion GPS.
Sen. John Cornyn, meanwhile––also a committee member––told the Washington Examiner he supported Feinstein’s decision.
“I think that’s a good idea,” he said. “I’m glad it was done.”
—Andrew Desiderio contributed reporting.